'There will never be another John Wooden'


How else to describe college basketball’s greatest coach?

The quote’s from UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, but anyone who knows the bare minimum about the Bruins icon could’ve said it. Terms like “legend” or “greatest” usually qualify as hyperbole in appreciations or obituaries. Not so with Wooden. He defined those terms, and sometimes exceeded them.

Ten NCAA tournament titles. An 88-game win streak. Never a losing season. Four unbeaten campaigns.

And those are just the numbers, the on-court accomplishments. His Pyramid of Success influenced coaches, businessmen and teachers, and by proxy, their students.

That influence reaches beyond sports and elevates Wooden into another sphere of excellence occupied by a select few.

Perhaps that heaps a bit too much upon Wooden’s legacy. But it reinforces there will never be another coach like Wooden. He came along at the perfect time, had the perfect players and the perfect results.

He coached Hall of Fame players in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor), Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich, Sidney Wicks, and numerous other all-american and all-conference players. Wooden won with good players and once the great players started flocking his way, he kept winning — like no one’s done before or since.

“When I think of a basketball coach the only one I ever thought of was coach Wooden. He had a great life and helped so many coaches until well in his 90s,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told the AP. “Every time I talked to him he would give me some words of advice. He’s the best of all time. There will never be another like him, and you can’t say that about too many people.”

How could there be another Wooden?

Who could possibly match his success?

Say John Calipari continues to stockpile talent at Kentucky, much like Wooden did at UCLA. All he has to do is win the NCAA tournament 10 times in 12 years, then extend his coaching philosophy into all facets of life and spend his retirement preaching excellence, and how to reach that excellence. It sounds like some kind of Hollywood script.

Frankly, today’s game won’t allow that kind of unmatched success. There are too many variables, too many obstacles to overcome. Yet … part of me thinks Wooden would’ve thrived in today’s game as well.

“I always thought John Wooden was ahead of his time. He played at a quicker tempo than most people did then. I borrowed a lot of what he did in developing my coaching philosophy,” said longtime Arkansas and Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson. “He had great players, but he also had a great system to take advantage of his players’ talents.”

Perhaps that’s because Wooden knew what he wanted and how to accomplish it, yet had the ideal setting in which to build his program into a powerhouse. He coached for 15 seasons at UCLA before winning a national title. And once he determined what worked, he ran with it, and always with a sense of calm.

Wooden was the ideal coach, and the best anyone’s ever seen. How could there ever be another?

“There has been no greater influence on college basketball not just about the game but the team,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. “He gave so much to basketball and education. In my opinion if he’s not as important as Dr. Naismith, he’s right next to him.”

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Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.